The Minnesota Vikings started the season well, with a dominant win against the New Orleans Saints in which quarterback Sam Bradford looked perhaps as good as he ever had in the NFL.
That game gave way to knee troubles though, and we have barely seen Bradford since then. Case Keenum has been filling in, but he has wavered between brilliant and appalling in his time so far this season.
However, in one tweet the Vikings quarterback situation could be about to get the boost it needs.
It's a short but sweet tweet that seems to indicate one thing: Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared to play again.
The recovery from knee injuries is so commonplace in the NFL these days that when someone tears an ACL the expectation is that they will be back to their old self by the next NFL season, and nine times out of ten that is the case.
Bridgewater's injury was not just an ACL tear though. On August 30 last year, just a few minutes into a regular preseason practice session, Teddy Bridgewater's left knee, for want of a better phrase, exploded. The joint dislocated, the ACL was in tatters and there was severe structural damage to almost every other ligament.
It was one of the worst knee injuries that NFL doctors had ever seen, and 14 months later he has been cleared to play football. But just what does Bridgewater's return bring for the Vikings?
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Before his injury, this was Teddy Bridgewater's NFL stat line:
|Yards||Comp. %||TDs||INTs||Y/A||QB Rating|
Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page at you, but the one big thing about Bridgewater is that he is accurate. 7.3 yards per attempt is a nice number. In 2015 that was 20th in the NFL, not terrible, not great, pretty average. The completion % was a much friendlier 10th in the league, above that of Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, and that year's MVP Cam Newton.
The yardage totals do not blow you away at all, but in 2014 he started 12 games and 2015 was a huge year for Adrian Peterson. The notable thing is that even with more attempts in 2015 his interception total fell as well.
With now a year and a half on the shelf it is near-impossible to know just what version of Teddy Bridgewater will be should he suit up for the Vikings in 2017. With a new offensive coordinator and playbook from when he was last on the field there will be a learning curve once again for Bridgewater, and treating him like a rookie would probably be the right way to go for the Vikings.
We have seen quarterbacks coming off knee injuries, especially to their plant leg, struggle mentally with stepping up in the pocket and really trusting their left leg to bear the strain of driving throws. Both Palmer and Brady had problems after their ACL injuries and took some time to regain their old confidence, that issue is only going to be bigger with Bridgewater. So, should he come back as soon as possible?
The argument for activating him
While the Vikings can now take him off the PUP list, they would then have three weeks to activate him or put him on IR.
With Sam Bradford's continued and undiagnosable knee issues, the Vikings simply cannot rely on him to be available every week, and that is simply an untenable position for any team with playoff aspirations to be.
That leaves Minnesota with Case Keenum as their quarterback and rookie Kyle Sloter as their backup. So far in 2017 Keenum has wildly outplayed his previous performances. His 64.2% pass completion rate is far and away his best single-season number. His 7.5 yards per attempt is too. Is he suddenly a new and improved quarterback? Is Pat Shurmur a genius? I'm not so sure. The Vikings passing offense, lead by Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at receiver, has a lot of weapons and they have done an impressive job so far of working openings and operating at a high level, I'm just not sure that is sustainable with Keenum week in and week out.
The 2015 Teddy Bridgewater was head and shoulders above Keenum's talent level, and if there is any indication that he can be that guy again then the Vikings have to put him on the field as soon as he is able, especially with Aaron Rodgers' absence throwing the NFC North wide open.
The argument for placing him on IR
The Vikings declined Bridgewater fifth-year option, making him a free agent at the end of this season. If the Vikings play him, and he does well, then the price to keep him will skyrocket. Of course they always have the franchise tag option, but with $22-25 million a year now the going rate for quarterbacks there is a lot of money to be thrown away on a bad contract for a player who flashes in the second half of this season.
If the Vikings keep Bridgewater on the shelf for 2017 they can almost certainly retain him at a cheap price for the next two years and then use the tag on him, getting more risk-free time with Bridgewater. It's not the most generous or noble strategy, but no NFL team ever found success by being overly generous with their salary cap, just ask the Carolina Panthers in 2012.
There is also a good rhythm with the team right now. Bradford and Keenum have combined to create a brutally effective passing game. Before this week they ranked third, behind Kansas and New England, in passing offense DVOA and that is not something you really want to disrupt, especially with Dalvin Cook on IR and the ground game producing just 3.5 yards a carry without him.
While Bridgewater has the all-clear to participate in practice, it would behoove both he and the team to take things slowly. There is no need to rush the man back into a game, and there is no reason for him to risk 14+ months of hard work by pressing at the end and risking reinjury.
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Vikings take every second they have before activating him and then very publicly stating that he is the QB-3 on the team. The worry is that putting him back into the locker room will create the dreaded "QB controversy", but a lot has changed since he was last there as an active player, and no one comes off a year-plus injury to immediately regain a job as big as quarterback, and that goes doubly when the offense is running smoothly. There is a buzz around Bridgewater with the news that his career is very much not over, but we all need to pump the brakes and lower expectations. He won't be playing on Sunday but he might be playing soon, and that is enough of a miracle in this game.
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